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Google, Facebook, Twitter face more regulation for online political ads

Silicon Valley tech firms, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have been grappling with how Russia may have used their tools and services to influence the U.S. presidential election.

Now some U.S. lawmakers want these companies to publicly disclose more about the online political ads they run on their platforms.

On Thursday, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; Mark Warner, D-Virginia; and John McCain, R-Arizona, introduced a bill aimed at creating more transparency surrounding online political advertising.

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“Our democracy is at risk,” Klobuchar said during a press conference. “Russia attacked our elections and they and other foreign powers and interests will continue to divide our country if we don’t act now.”

Called the “Honest Ads Act,” the bill would require digital platforms with at least 50 million monthly visitors to keep a public file of certain election ads and communications. The requirement would apply to a person or group who purchased more than $500 total in ads from the company during 12 months.

A digital copy of the ad, the number of views generated, and other information would be included in this file.

The bill would also amend the definition of electioneering communication in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 to include paid internet and digital ads. Under the legislation, internet companies would also have to make a “reasonable effort” to ensure that a foreign entity isn’t purchasing ads to influence American elections.

In September, Facebook said 470 fake accounts and pages that appear to be linked to Russian entities ran roughly 3,000 ads from 2015 to 2017. Other tech companies, including Twitter, Google and Pinterest, have also found evidence that Russian entities might have used their platforms to influence the presidential election.

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“With every new story about Russian bots or bogus information or shadowy ads that you don’t know the source of, we need to acknowledge that fact that the nature of politics and campaigning is changing,” Warner said during a press conference.

Russian officials have denied using social media to meddle in the U.S. presidential election.

But lawmakers say the recent revelations by tech firms have also highlighted a national security vulnerability, and laws about political ads need to be updated.

“U.S. laws requiring transparency in political campaigns have not kept pace with rapid advances in technology, allowing our adversaries to take advantage of these loopholes to influence millions of American voters with impunity,” McCain said in a statement.

The lawmakers said they hope social media companies and other tech firms will work with them on the bill.

Facebook already vowed to disclose more about political ads before the bill was introduced.

“We stand with lawmakers in their effort to achieve transparency in political advertising. We have already announced the steps Facebook will take on our own and we look forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution,” Facebook Vice President of U.S. Public Policy Erin Egan said in a statement.

A Twitter spokesperson said they “look forward to engaging with Congress and the (Federal Election Commission) on these issues.”

Google said that it’s also looking at what steps they can take to improve transparency on their platforms and will be working closely with lawmakers, the FEC and the industry to “explore the best solutions.”

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“We support efforts to improve transparency, enhance disclosures, and reduce foreign abuse,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Officials from Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee about Russian-linked accounts and ads on Nov. 1.

Photo: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, left, looks on as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, speaks during a press conference to introduce the Honest Ads Act, Oct. 19, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The legislation is designed to increase the transparency of political ads on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

 

Tags: ads, facebook, Google, legislation, Politics, twitter

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